Growing the fight game

MMA016_EAG_RGBONLINE.jpgChampion’s Choice Mixed Martial Arts owner and instructor Chad Bellwood (left) spars with fellow instructor and professtional fighter Aaron Berke.
Dave Eagles/KTW

Some people say Kamloops is a hockey town.
Others claim it’s a baseball town.
But if Chad Bellwood has his way, Kamloops will be an MMA town.
Bellwood runs Champion’s Choice, an MMA — mixed martial arts — training facility in downtown Kamloops.
“It’s growing, but I’d say the MMA community [in Kamloops] is really small,” he said.
“But we’ve found, in this city, four or five top-notch fighters. We have a lot of really top-notch talent.
“In terms of that, I don’t think we’re second to anybody.”
Bellwood opened Champion’s Choice in 2007, after returning to B.C. following a stint training in martial arts in Dubai.
In three years, he’s developed a small, but devoted, group of athletes ranging from professional fighters to people looking to stay in shape.
“For three-and-a-half years, I’ve given these guys lots of sparring, lots of kicks, lots of punches — and now they’re giving it all back,” Bellwood said.
“When an instructor has students and those students become better than him, that’s a proud moment.”
Bellwood was first introduced to martial arts at 10 years old, when he started taking karate lessons in his native city of Prince George.
From there, he began training with a taekwon-do master and eventually became involved in ju-jitsu in the 1990s.
Bellwood moved to England to train and eventually found himself working out at Dubai’s Abu Dhabi Combat Club.
“I was putting it together over five or six years,” he said.
“Now, watching this facility grow and watching these guys take the techniques I showed them and put them to use, it’s definitely rewarding.”
The training at Champion’s Choice is paying off for two local professional fighters, Aaron Berke and Chad Freeman.
Freeman, 33, recently travelled to California for a training session.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he said.
“But I could compete. Now I know that if I go down there, I can compete with those guys.”
As it stands, the top fighters in Kamloops have to travel not only for some advanced training, but also to fight.
Because there is no formal fight commission established in the city, professional fights aren’t allowed.
But Bellwood said he’s hoping to change that.
“The first thing we have to do is establish fight cards in town,” he said.
“This is the Tournament Capital of Canada, and MMA is the most popular sport right now.”
Two other Interior communities — Vernon and Penticton — have established commissions and host professional fights.
Bellwood said he’s hoping to have someone from the Vernon commission “baby sit” the process in Kamloops to make sure everything moves forward as it should — but he has yet to formally contact any city officials.
“Then we can start bringing in fight cards,” he said.
In the meantime, Bellwood said he’s going to keep working with local fighters.
“It’s the one and only [strictly MMA facility] in town,” he said.
“We are a professional martial arts academy. We are a serious group of young guys who love the fight game.
“We have training for the professionals and we have classes for the average Joe who just wants to exercise.”
One such “average Joe” is Christopher Hardy, who has been training at Champion’s Choice for three months.
“It’s not that I have any aspirations about being a UFC fighter or any interest in stepping into the ring,” he said.
“I came here really to strengthen my cardio and my overall conditioning.”
And he hasn’t been disappointed.
“I thought I was in good shape before, but I came in here and 15 minutes after I started I was out of breath,” Hardy said.
“They’ve made me feel totally welcome. It’s been an incredible learning experience.”

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